Fun Times Ahead at Visalia's Rawhide Baseball Stadium
Hey Batter BatterApril 2015
By Jordan Venema
Photos courtesy of Rawhide Baseball Stadium
Rawhide Stadium is where Visalia and the national pastime collide, a crucible in which the nation’s youngest and most promising baseball players try to pitch and swing and field their way to the bigs. In 1983, Hall of Famer Kirby Puckett played his first full pro season here, and more recently, MVP-caliber players Paul Goldschmidt and Justin Upton as well as Cy Young winner Max Scherzer each wore the Rawhide stripes. Diehard baseball fans know it – this stadium is a front row seat to watch the players before they become stars.
The diehards, however, are a minor league minority. A recent Minor League Baseball study found that about 70 percent of people leaving a minor league game had no idea what the final score was. Donny Baarns, the Rawhide director of broadcast and media relations, has no problem with the statistic. “It is perfectly fine as long as they have a great time, which they almost inevitably do,” he says.
Truth be told, minor league teams have had to evolve, in part because they do not control their roster. As the Class-A affiliate of the Diamondbacks, Visalia Rawhide is just a temporary stop. But as the players move up through the system, so too does the minor league model for a successful ballpark. “Minor League Baseball has to be about more than just the game,” says Baarns. “It’s funny because Major League Baseball has become more that way, too. MLB tends to imitate what the minor leagues do, in terms of promoting the game and the fans. It’s a trickle-up effect over time.”
In 2009, the Visalia Rawhide Baseball Club stepped up to the plate by expanding seating and services. Not only did the remodel make the park more accessible to a diverse fan base, it proved the club’s commitment to winning where it counts. “We have no control over whether the team wins or not, because we have no say over when the players go to the next level,” says Baarns. “So we focus on creating a great venue for people to come to. That’s what we focus on, though winning is nice too.”
The Grass Pasture behind right field offers a picnic-like atmosphere for families (affordably, too, at $7 a ticket), and the nearby Hall of Fame Club provides an air-conditioned, optionally catered, fully stocked bar, of which “a lot of business owners take advantage to entertain clients or network,” says Baarns. There’s also the Main Grandstand behind home plate, “great for baseball diehards who want to watch the game.” But really, any seat is a great seat, since, Baarns explains, “we have so little foul territory in our park that it’s probably the closest you can sit to a pro game in North America.”
So what can fans expect at the park beside a great view? Special events and promotions are as plentiful as the club’s talent. There’s Thirsty Thursdays, with discounted beer prices, and Two for Tuesdays, where fans can pick up two-for-one ticket vouchers at Chevron and Texaco gas stations.
Rawhide also offers annual events, like Dairy Day, where players compete in a pre-game milking contest, or Bark in the Park, where fans are encouraged to bring their canines. Baarns goes down a list: Realtor Night, Craft Beer Night, the Helicopter Candy Drop. After the game a helicopter drops about 500 pounds of candy in the outfield, kids 12 and under are partitioned by age, “and we let them loose to pick up as much as they can,” says Baarns. To participate, children must be members of the Kids Club, which costs $5 per child and comes with a free T-shirt and 10 tickets. That’s 10 tickets for $5, and all the candy a kid can carry.
The Rawhide home season runs from April 9 to September 7, which means plenty of time for fun and baseball. Because in the end, even if only 30 percent of fans are watching, there’s a game on the field with a lot on the line for its players. Last year, Visalia Rawhide gave fans a season to remember, winning its division and competing in the Cal League finals. “It was an exciting year,” Baarns says. “We’re still looking for our first title since 1978, but we’re getting closer.” But even without a Cal League title, there’s no doubt the stadium hosts a winner every game, and that would be every fan.
Visalia Rawhide Baseball Stadium • 300 N. Giddings St., Visalia
(559) 732-HIDE (4433) • www.rawhidebaseball.com
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